Less than two weeks before the U.S. Coast Guard is expected to shutter its Newport Air Station, fishermen, locals and Oregon lawmakers are making a final case to keep it open after a successful weekend rescue.
Early Saturday morning, a Coast Guard helicopter out of Newport came to the aid of five fishermen on a sinking crabbing boat near Siletz Bay.
Kelly Madden, skipper on the 75-foot fishing vessel, said in an interview with the AP that the helicopter likely saved their lives. Though the crew members had on survival suits, Kelly said they were already feeling cold when the copter arrived 20 minutes after their mayday call.
“You spend $10 million a day on a war and you can’t come up with $6 million a year to run a helicopter facility that saves lives,” Madden told the newswire service. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Three fishermen were pulled to safety while the other two waited on a Coast Guard boat out of Depoe Bay.
Following the weekend’s rescue, Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley along with other members of Congress requested that the Coast Guard reconsider the closure of the Newport facility and a location in Charleston, North Carolina.
“Every second counts in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, and these five people are alive today thanks to the fact that there is a Coast Guard station in Newport,” said Wyden in a statement. “This recent rescue shows clearly why I am working to keep this Coast Guard helicopter in Newport — this is a life-or-death question for the people who live in and work on the central Oregon Coast.”
Despite the pleas of lawmakers and local residents, the Coast Guard plans to close the Newport air station on Dec. 15 because of budget cuts.
“We’ll continue that tradition with highly trained search and rescue professionals, always on call and committed to assisting mariners in need,” said Coast Guard media relations Joe Klinker in a statement. “In Newport and throughout the region, we will continue to meet and exceed the national search and rescue standards. It’s why we serve.”
Today at noon, Think Out Loud will be discussing the closure, and the Newport Fishermen’s Wives suit against the Coast Guard.